Education for our children

The role of the Virtual School in monitoring education for children in the care of Suffolk.

In this section you will find information on:

  • School admissions guidance for children in care
  • How to support a child or young person who is moving schools
  • How the Virtual School supports schools
  • The role of key people in the education of children in care
  • Writing a report about the education and attainment of children in care for your governing body/trust
  • Exclusions update

For many reasons, children in care often have lower attainment than their peers. There is no doubt that children in care will benefit from high quality teaching, but each young person needs much more than that to achieve their potential. They need understanding, high aspirations, staff that go the extra mile and organisations that work in partnership. 

The Children and Families Act 2014 requires councils in England to appoint a Virtual School Head to discharge the local authority’s duty to promote the educational achievement of its children in care.  The Virtual School Head is the lead responsible officer for ensuring that arrangements are in place to improve the educational experiences and outcomes of the authority’s children in care (CiC). It is important to note that an unaccompanied minor/unaccompanied asylum-seeking child (UASC) is entitled to the same support as a child born in this country.

The Ofsted inspection framework for local authority services to CiC has very clear expectations of the information that will be available to Inspectors, and these expectations influence both the work of the Virtual School Head and the organisation of the Virtual School.

Admissions

Children in care have been given the highest priority within school admission arrangements. The admission requirements for children in care are set out in the School Admissions Code which applies to maintained schools and academies.

There is a clear link between stability and educational outcomes, so it is important to avoid school moves unless absolutely necessary and it is always advisable to speak to the Virtual School first.

Put simply, a child in care must be given a place in the school chosen irrespective of the current numbers on roll or in a class. The local authority that looks after a child can instruct a school in any local authority to admit a child in care. This includes using their powers of direction in a timely way to avoid delay. Where a local authority considers that an academy will best meet the needs of any child, it can ask the academy to admit that child but has no power to direct it to do so.

The local authority and the academy will usually come to an agreement, but if the academy refuses to admit the child, the local authority can ask the Secretary of State to intervene.

The DfE guidance ‘Promoting the education of looked after children’ states that children in care should attend a school which Ofsted has rated ‘good’ or ‘outstanding’, unless there are valid reasons why this might not be in the child’s best interest.

If a child moves schools during the school year, schools have twenty working days to process and admit them from receipt of the application.

Supporting a move to a new school

Starting a new school – whether it’s during the school year or at the start of a new phase – can be daunting for a child or young person. Children in care have told us that sometimes schools don’t know what they would like the school to know about them and this can cause unnecessary upset or issues.

The Children in Care Council have worked with us to produce an information sheet called All About Me that a child or young person can fill in to share important information about themselves with their new school. There are two versions, one for younger pupils and one for older pupils. Please feel free to request an All About Me sheet from the Virtual School.

Our work with schools

  • Visits and meetings

We are in direct contact with every school with Suffolk child in care on roll and we also visit (either face to face or virtually) at least on an annual basis. This visit allows the school and the Virtual School Lead to discuss the provision and progress of each pupil. This dialogue provides an opportunity to consolidate how best to meet the needs of each pupil and to share best practice.

Feedback about the school’s PEP may also be given to also share best practice. We will write a report after the visit and send the school a copy, which we would encourage you to share with your line manager and senior leadership team. We contact schools in advance to arrange the meeting but they can also request a visit if they would like us to support them with something in particular or wish to undertake a review of their practice.

  • Contact about individual pupils

We may make contact with a school about a specific pupil to discuss their provision. For example, if a pupil has received a fixed term exclusion the relevant Virtual School Lead will make contact to discuss the strategies that the school will be using to avoid this from occurring again.

We do not usually attend CiC Reviews, PEP meetings or EHCP Annual Reviews unless there are exceptional circumstances. We are always available to provide advice, support and guidance, however, if schools or social workers wish to discuss the situation with a particular pupil.

We offer support, guidance, training and challenge to ensure that educational services are effective in maximising the progress the progress that our children make in school. We do this through:

  • Tracking academic progress, attendance, and exclusions of CiC

  • Quality assuring all Personal Education Plans (PEPs)

  • Providing support and challenge to schools to ensure that academic standards are raised for CiC

  • Using our tracking data to highlight individuals who are not on target to achieve their predicted outcomes and challenging their settings to provide them with additional education support

  • Ensuring Special Education Needs or Disability needs are identified and supported appropriately with an integrated plan

  • Monitoring and challenging schools to make effective use of the Pupil Premium Grant for CiC

  • Ensuring effective transition between schools or specialist providers

  • Encouraging a culture that supports our young people to have high aspiration about their futures and removes barriers to further education

  • Leading training for Designated Teachers, Social Workers, School Governors, Foster Carers and bespoke training for educational settings and staff in schools

  • Providing advice to social workers and carers to ensure they contribute to the education outcomes of children on their case load or in their care placement

  • Celebrating the achievements of Children in Care

  • Supporting the delivery of the Children in Care Promise

Key people - School

The Designated Teacher (DT) for children in care

All schools must have a Designated Teacher, who is ideally a member of the senior leadership team.  The Designated Teacher is responsible for championing the educational needs of children in care in their school and ensuring they have good quality PEPs. They should be the main author and champion of the PEP within the school and should maintain high expectations of children in care and have the time to understand their needs.

The statutory guidance relating to designated teachers provides an excellent summary of good practice. We have also produced guidelines to support our Designated Teachers in their role and to aid in completing the online PEP. Please see the Personal Education Plans section for further information.

The Virtual School offers professional development to designated teachers as well as the opportunity to network and exchange knowledge, understanding and good practice with other Designated Teachers. Please see the Training section for further information.

School Governors

Headteachers who prioritise the education and welfare of children in care ensure that the governing body is able to fulfil its duty to appoint a sufficiently senior and experienced designated teacher to promote the educational outcomes of children in care. The designated teacher must:

  • be a qualified teacher
  • be in a position to lead school staff
  • undertake appropriate training to fulfil the role
  • work closely with the virtual school

Governing bodies that prioritise the education and welfare of children in care identify a governor to take particular interest in the work of the school in relation to children in care and meet regularly with the designated teacher. The chair of governors supports this ‘designated governor for children in care’ by ensuring they have access to training to fulfil their function and advise the governing body as a whole. Please contact the Virtual School to discuss training for governors.

Headteachers should ensure confidentiality about the personal details of children in care on the school roll while facilitating termly reports from the designated teacher to the governing body and a positive working relationship between the designated teacher and the designated governor for children in care.

DTs are responsible for monitoring and reporting on the progress and attainment of the school’s children in care. DTs are required to do this at least on an annual basis but doing so on a termly basis is regarded to be best practice. The report should consist of a narrative which reflects the following questions which are adapted from statements about the role of a governing body in the statutory guidance (2018):

To protect a child’s need for confidentiality it is important to ensure that the reports do not mention individual children by name. The report should enable the governing body to make judgements about the school’s provision for children in care:

  • The number of children in care at the school and the number of local authorities which are involved, as well as the number of previously looked after children that the school as formal notification of any issues that have arisen as a result of the number of children in care and children previously in care or local authorities involved
  • whether looked-after and previously looked-after children have made the expected or better levels of progress over the past twelve months in line with their peers (i.e. educational, social and emotional progress) *
  • the pattern of attendance and exclusions for looked-after and previously looked-after children is different to that of other children at the school
  • for looked-after children, whether the school’s policies are sensitive to their needs, e.g in accessing out of school hours learning, respecting the children’s wishes and feelings about their care status or generally meeting their needs as identified in their personal education plans (PEPs)*
  • how the school is responding to any additional safeguarding challenges for children in care and children previously in care of which the school’s designated safeguarding lead should be aware
  • whether any looked-after and previously looked-after children have special educational needs (SEN) and whether those needs are being identified and met at the appropriate level
  • whether any looked-after and previously looked-after children have mental health needs and whether those needs are being identified and met
  • whether any are identified as ‘gifted and talented’ and how those needs are being met
  • how the school’s behaviour management policy has been adapted to be sufficiently flexible to respond to children in care and children previously in care’s challenging behaviour in the most effective way for those children*
  • any process or planning issues arising from the implementation of the action plan to raise achievement in the personal education plans (PEPs)
  • what impact Pupil Premium Funding (specifically pupil Premium Plus) has had in improving the educational outcomes of each child in care or child previously in care
  • how the teaching and learning needs of children in care are reflected in school development plans and are being met in relation to interventions and resources*
  • training undertaken by the Designated Teacher to impart knowledge and understanding about the education and wellbeing of children in care and previously looked after children to colleagues
  • work with the Virtual School leadership team and external agencies both in Suffolk and their equivalence in other Local Authorities
  • the impact of any of the school’s policies, for example on charging for educational visits, extended school activities and transport on children in care.

Source: The designated teacher for looked after children and previously looked after children: Statutory guidance on their roles and responsibilities, DfE, February 2018 (with effect from September 2018) *Italicised bullet points may not be required to be included in every report, if governors receive more than an annual report.

Guidance from the Department of Education:

Key people - Social Workers

Social workers have a key role to play in supporting the education of children in care. The child's social worker is responsible for coordinating and facilitating the PEP meeting in which their progress and attainment will be discussed and the evolving plan to support their outcomes will be shared and reviewed. Social workers will also liaise with the Virtual School to discuss necessary school moves.

Key people - Carers

The role of the carer is paramount in supporting the education of children in care. Carers should ensure that the child has appropriate access to learning and is encouraged to make best use of it and fulfil their potential.

Though not always explicitly stated in the placement agreement, this should include:

  • working closely with the child’s school or other educational placement
  • taking an active interest in the child’s homework
  • encouraging a child to value learning
  • supporting a child’s attendance at school
  • advocating for the child’s individual needs

We know how vital a role carers play in helping our children to achieve at school.

We have written a booklet for carers called The Essential Guide: How to help your foster child to maximise their outcomes at secondary school to support carers to support their child or children to achieve the best outcomes possible during and at the end of secondary school.

It contains lots of practical advice and guidance about your role in the PEP process, revision and homework, parents evenings and reports. We have also separated the sections out for easy access to the information and guidance you may be looking for.

Exclusions

Schools should not ask a carer to collect their child from school during the school day for any reason other than them being unwell. The exception to this is a formal exclusion which requires written notification. Also, schools should not ask carers to keep their child at home unless they are unwell or excluded. On some very rare occasions a part-time offer of education might be appropriate and can be agreed as a part of a managed transition to full time provision. This should always be time limited and all parties must be in agreement with it. An exclusion from school has to be carried out formally and in accordance with the Department of Education guidance.

If a CiC has received a fixed term exclusion the relevant Virtual School Lead will make contact to discuss the strategies that the school will be using to avoid this from occurring again.

If you have any concerns about an informal exclusion, you can email the Unofficial Exclusion Alert unofficialexclusions@suffolk.gov.uk for support, guidance and action from the relevant professionals.

More guidance on exclusions can be found here.